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When I first walked into Palm Court’s newest restaurant (or dare I say music lounge?), Estefan Kitchen, the first thought that came to mind was that it was every bit “Miami.” Strewn throughout its interior, there were sparkling white pillars, deep blue and purple mood lighting, a live pianist, waiters buzzing by in head-to-toe white, a singer performing the classics from inside the indoor-outdoor bar, and of course, Miami’s finest foodies wining and dining. It may have been lunchtime on a weekday, but from inside Estefan Kitchen, you would have thought it was a Saturday night. And to match these see-and-be-seen vibes, the food, a menu of fine Cuban cuisine, was as tasty as it was beautifully presented. After the first few bites, it became wildly apparent that this “very Miami” spot was a very nice, lasting addition to the Design District, and it was one created by none other than superstar duo-turned-hospitality vets, Gloria and Emilio Estefan.

When we sat down for lunch, the first thing we did was look at the appetizers: executive chef Odell Torres had come up with plenty to choose from. We started with the Handmade Croquetas with Serrano ham, creamy béchamel sauce and balsamic guava reduction, and moved on to the Mini Cuban Sandwiches, which were made with slow-roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard, topped with tiny Cuban flags. The Lechón Flatbread, which was hard to put down, covered a coveted carb bottom with award-winning roasted pork, mozzarella, sweet plantains, organic honey and truffle oil. The real star, however, was the Bacon-Wrapped Maduros. Both delicate and delicious, this dish stuffed sweet plantains with queso blanco, wrapped them in thick applewood-smoked bacon and served them with a side of Estefan Kitchen’s special guava cream.

Much like the appetizers, the presentation of the main dishes was superb. The Chicken Vaca Frita came seared, crisp and shredded, topped with grilled onions and an Estefan Kitchen mojo marinade, and served with a side of “moro,” or black beans and rice. The award-winning Lechón Asado lived up to its reputation on all accounts. The Cuban-style, 24-hour marinated and roasted pork was piled in a perfect cylindrical shape and sided by a delicate, but flavorful mixture of yucca and white rice. While we barely had any room left to eat, the grand finale, dessert, was worth a bite. My personal favorite was the Natilla – it’s served in a stemless wine glass and fuses the sweet flavors of Cuban-style homemade vanilla bean pudding with caramel to make a sugary-sweet dessert that was the perfect ending to our heavy and hearty lunch.

The menu aside, Estefan Kitchen is about more than the a good meal. Inspired by the Estefan’s’ Cuban heritage, their love for music and their own family recipes, Estefan Kitchen will be both a place to revel in one of Cuba’s most popular traditions (its food!) and enjoy live music. The first Cuban restaurant for the MDD, it marks 27 years of success in the hospitality business for Gloria and Emilio, and to celebrate, Estefan Kitchen will act as a curator of live music in its dazzling new neighborhood for, what we all hope, is years to come.

Estefan Kitchen is located at 140 NE 39th Street, Suite 33. It is open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. The restaurant’s hours are Sunday through Thursday, from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, from 11:30 a.m. to midnight. It serves cafecito from 9 a.m. to close.

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